Teachers, businesses battle poor writing skills of tech-savvy students and graduates who know button
Published: Thursday, July 21, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 13:07
Social media like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter and almost real-time tools like texting have helped create a gadget-savvy generation of teens who seldom read long-form writing.
Driven by a unique form of shorthand, these evolving communication platforms have prompted concern that the emphasis on informal writing will make it difficult or impossible for teens to complete college or to earn and maintain a corporate job.
Most teens stick to what they know so well – writing in the same form they read, a quick and easy "omg chriss wut r yuu doinggg in dis videooo," "Thnkz FO commnt" or "Alrdy miiiisss ya bruh."
"Language has changed like crazy," said Roy Gonzales, Texas A&M-College Station telecommunication media junior and amateur rap artist who often manipulates language to fit his musical genre.
"A lot of people get lazy. It's not that it (writing) is deteriorated, it's just people get real lazy."
The inability to write spills into the workforce, where many corporations require competency in oral and written communication.
"Without a doubt, people who go into working careers with strong writing skills will make more money and rise faster," said Ronda Templeton, a former San Antonio journalist who is now the senior manager of internal communications at Aflac, the largest provider of supplemental insurance in the United States.
"Just being valued as an employee goes down to just writing a coherent email," she said.
Mike Burton, incoming chair of the English department at San Antonio College, said writing has been the most critical skill for the past 4,000 years. Burton said he doesn't see that changing, but the casual and highly abbreviated writing used in social media and texting is all that is produced by a majority of teens.
"In some ways, students write a lot more today than 30 years ago, but a lot of it is texting or Twittering," Burton said. "Writing now is much more streamlined, more get in and get out."
It's this ragged form of casual writing that litters social media, riddles text messages and pushes its way into emails.
"Sloppy writing is sloppy thinking," said Sarah Plaster, Aflac's manager of internal communications. "If you can get those thoughts in order, a lot of times you can write."
Working for a company initially requires communications between employees and managers.
"You have to be emailing constantly," said Blythe Perez, University of Houston business sophomore. "I think professional people would judge me if I had misspellings and errors."
Plaster doesn't believe people intend to look foolish when sending notes or emails, but their inability to write makes it inevitable.
"If you can write, you're less likely to look like a fool," Plaster said.
College students today are not only taking classic English courses, but developmental courses as well. Nearly 80 percent of students at SAC are required to take a remedial English course.
"The developmental English courses basically cover the writing skills that a student should have gotten in high school; so essentially, they squeeze four years of the writing component of high school English into one or two semesters," Burton said.
Templeton says students in public or private school don't have enough emphasis on writing; in turn, there's not a lot of long-form essay writing. Whether in high school or college, students just don't get enough practice.
"There's an art to writing, and I don't think students graduate well-versed in that art," Templeton said. "Students don't know how to put their thoughts coherently on paper."
Jon McCarter, assistant director of the writing center and adjunct instructor at SAC, said although education is required by society, much of its support has disappeared.
"Focus has shifted through education," McCarter said. "Today's bachelor's degree is the equivalent of the high school diploma years ago."
Many think over-specialization of majors is the shortcoming of the education system. Where the specified courses are important, core classes seem less pertinent.
"When a major is over-specialized, some math, science or English class gets thrown aside," Plaster said.
Although school is where basic skills should be learned, some corporations are willing to work with employees whatever their struggles may be. IHG-Army Hotels helps provide employees with tuition assistance and training dollars.
"If I had a hard-working employee and found out they couldn't write, I would try to send them to school or at least fund them," said Teresa Colatarci, regional director of operations at IHG Army Hotels.